Featherstone coach: Strong defence will be the key

Rovers centre Vince Mellars will have a late fitness test. Picture: Bob Nunn.
Rovers centre Vince Mellars will have a late fitness test. Picture: Bob Nunn.

Coach Danny Evans believes Featherstone’s defence will need to be at its best if they are to book their place in the Championship Grand Final for a fourth successive season.

Evans expects Sunday’s home qualifying semi-final against Batley Bulldogs to follow a similar pattern to two previous clashes between the sides this year.

Both games were close, with Rovers winning 16-12 at Mount Pleasant and 18-12 at Big Fellas Stadium.

“It’s going to be a very tough test. Every time we’ve played Batley this season it could have gone either way and they have been two very close games,” said Evans.

“We are comfortable with the way we are playing at the moment. We’ve just got to make sure we are strong defensively on Sunday.

“I think our defence will be a key area and we will be looking to keep Batley down to a low score. We’ve shown in the past we can score points, although that’s not to say we will score bucketloads again this Sunday.

“We are really looking forward to the game. One of our goals this year was to reach the Grand Final and we are 80 minutes away from doing that.”

Evans wasn’t surprise fifth-placed Batley knocked out Leigh Centurions in the second round of the play-offs last weekend.

The Bulldogs snatched a dramatic 15-14 victory at Leigh Sports Village Stadium - the venue for this season’s Grand Final on September 29 - with Ben Black’s ‘golden point’ drop goal in extra time.

“All credit to Batley - I think they deserved the victory,” he added.

“Batley have some very good players. Their back three are pretty quick and elusive and then they’ve got some big men up the middle.”

Featherstone will be aiming for their eighth straight victory on Sunday.

They are unbeaten since Sean Long was appointed team manager at the start of last month but Evans says they are keeping their feet firmly on the ground.

“It’s different this year from previous seasons,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of adversity and we’ve had several different coaches.

“There just seems a different feel about the place. We lifted the League Leaders’ Shield but no one has really talked about winning it. There have been no massive pats on the back or anything like that. We’ve just concentrated on one week at a time and that’s what we are doing now.”

Evans added that former Great Britain half-back Long’s input has been “massively important.”

“The influence Sean has has since he came in has been unbelievable,” he said.

“Sean has played in Grand Finals and numerous other big games and we are drawing on his experience and knowledge.

“He knows what it is all about so he’s really good for our players.”

Featherstone’s 40-26 victory over Leigh in the first round of the play-offs earned them a bye last weekend.

It gave centre Vince Mellars an extra week to recover after he missed the Leigh game with a knee injury.

Evans added: “Preparation has gone well. Last week’s training was a bit lighter than normal and we’ll be training hard this week.

“There will be a late call on Vince. We’ll have to wait and see but fingers crossed he’ll come through all right.”

Rovers are still without Tim Spears who is serving the second match of a two-game ban.